A few days ago, we talked about how the US military forces use various video game applications, for both their training and weapon systems. And in the latest iteration of the applied technology, US military has developed a new video game called Rover that allows dog handlers to better comprehend their canine companion’s subtle behavioral patterns – which may potentially lead to more effective bomb detection scenarios.
The use of trained dogs for detection of explosives like IEDs has come back into focus for various military forces from around the world (though the practice was also prevalent during World War II). According to scientists from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), dogs are more successful in literally sniffing out the IEDs because of the bombs’ tendency to give out faint gas plumes that are far too tepid for mechanized detection systems. In other words, the dog nose’s more evolved sensitivity allows the animal to identify the plumes, which in turn presents the opportunity to locate the actual source of the usually hidden device.
As for the Rover video game, it was developed at the NRL by a team led by a computer scientist named Adam Moses. The virtual world-based program was designed to train the dog handlers in a more efficient manner. In essence, this ambit not only pertains to their correct using of dog commands, but it also entails how well they could ‘read’ and recognize the animal’s suggestive reactions if it had come across a potential explosive.
These attenuated behavioral patterns of the canines were exhaustively studied by the involved team after observing more than hundreds of hours of video footage captured from conflict zones like Iraq. The researchers had also collaborated with dedicated response teams for over ten years, and that allowed them to take into consideration hypothetical emergency scenarios, like when toxic gases have already spread throughout an designated area. This in turn makes the program more ‘genuine’ with complex algorithms that relate to real-time (and not always favorable) situations.
However, in spite of the advanced nature of the software, the applications of the Rover had to be made more accessible, with the use of familiar systems like Xbox Kinect. This allows the solider (to be trained) to delve into a virtual world where he can practice his commands, while also ascertaining the slight changes in his dog companion’s behavior and cues. According to Moses, the ambit is more like a trial-and-error method –
A dog is trying to please the handler, so if the handler keeps the dog moving instead of looking at what’s caught the dog’s attention, the dog is less likely to display that cue again. An inexperienced handler can un-train a dog by accident, so better that they could spend a week on one of these and, if they make a mistake here, it’s no big deal.
The NRL scientists are also looking forth to incorporate more dog personality varieties, given the possibility of their better responsiveness in difficult environments with noise and crowd. Gamers will be further interested to know that Rover might even have a scoring system that could be lead to friendly competitiveness (and hence better learning tendencies) among the recruits. As for now, the video game is released as a module of the famous Virtual Battlespace – a dedicated military simulator used by many armies across the world.